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Chemotherapy - what to expect and how to help?

(8 Posts)
WantToBeHelpful Thu 25-Aug-16 15:42:37

NC for this but am a regular.

My wonderful relative starts chemotherapy in a few weeks and it's due to last right into next year.

I have no experience of this and would love some tips on what she is going to go through and how we and her family and friends can best support her and practically help her.

Thanks all.

Davinaaddict Thu 25-Aug-16 17:15:51

Sorry to hear about your relative. My mum went through some quite intensive chemo last year and early this year. I won't lie, it's tough. I can't imagine what it was like for my mum to go through, but as one of her carers, it's really hard watching someone you love go through so much knowing that there is very little you can do for them.

My mum was very ill when diagnosed, and so may not be the same as your relative. I'm also not sure how much time you will spend with your relative, so my point of view might not be relevant if you're not with them as much as I was with my mum. Hopefully you'll find some of it useful.

I found there were up days and down days. Listening to them and being supportive was the most important thing I found. They may want to talk, they may not, but if they do, try very hard not to offer answers/fixes, as this can lead to them feeling unsupported even if your intentions are good.

Don't expect too much, as it's hard mentally as well as physically. My mum needed to have days in bed and rest. My mum was very sick with it and could barely eat anything (2-3 chips and a fish finger was one memorable meal!). What really upset her and stressed her out, was being over faced and felt pushed into eating (not by me). Gentle encouragement was definitely what helped, and got her eating slightly more each day.

Mum was also on a LOT of tablets (16-20 a day at one point), and they may need help there to make sure they stay on track with them.

Mum, understandably became very self centred, and discussed symptoms pretty much all the time. Which is totally normal, but can get a bit boring sometimes, when you've heard the same things 25 times that week! Patience is your friend!

In terms of the chemotherapy itself, mum alternated between one day in the day unit and 3 days as an inpatient. Honestly - it's boring!! Lots of hanging around while they get set up, then waiting for the drips to complete. Make sure they have plenty to keep them occupied (reading, charged tablet, etc), maybe card games etc if you'll be there. Food and drinks are handy as well, although you'll usually get a cup of tea and a sandwich. Mum found it very tiring, so having a chaperone makes things easier as she didn't have to worry about driving, parking etc.

Finally, please make sure you take time to yourself for rest and relaxation, especially if you are spending a lot of time with your relative. It can be very stressful for carers and relatives to go through, and imo can make it even harder to support anyone, if you're not looking after yourself as well.

Good luck - I hope everything goes well. Mum is very much on the up, and only under very minimal medication now, so it can and does work smile

WantToBeHelpful Thu 25-Aug-16 17:30:26

Thanks so much. That's really helpful, especially the eating and patience things...they are the things I'm worried we will all get wrong and then she'll end up feeling very alone. Our family love cooking and eating food as a way to show love and I'm worried a couple of people are going to find not eating hard, and will really push to eat even if she doesn't want to. Sounds like an odd problem but I can see her trying to eat to please others and it all getting quite horrible.

I'll stock her up with lots of reading material and DVDs. She is really well at the moment so hopefully will have some strength going into it.

Thank you for sharing your experience with your mum. Wishing you both lots of luck for the future flowers

passthewineplz Thu 25-Aug-16 18:00:15

I've had chemo, so this is from my own experience.

Food:
Steroids made me very hungry, moody and bloated. Not sure if your relative will be given any, but if she does make sure she takes lots of food to the hospital to snack on.

I didn't lose my appetite, but did get very bored of hospital food. So if you can take food in for her so she's eating different things that will help. You'll have to ask the hospital if there's a fridge to keep food in and warm it up, if there isn't I'd just take something in when you visit her.

Personal hygiene in hospital
I found baby wipes useful to give myself a freshen up. Take small bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in rather than big bottles. Also some hand cream, face cream and body lotion, as your skin gets dry. And lip balm if she's prone to dry lips, and cold sore cream if she's prone to getting cold sores. And also remember the other usual toiletries.

clothes
Make sure she takes enough nightwear and knickers for each day, so she can freshen up.

entertainment
Hospital and chemo is very very boring. Make use of the family rooms, and walk round the ward and other areas. All you have to do is push the drip stand, takes a bit of getting used to but it's easy enough to walk around with it.

iPad, downloaded with prerecorded programmes, as there might not be any internet access.

Magazines, books, puzzle books ect.

If she knits or does crochet, or cross stitch tell her to take that. If she doesn't learning cross stitch or something keeps you occupied for a while.

Tiredness
Rest and sleep. Try not to do too much, it's normal to be tired during the chemo and for a few days after. She might find that she's exhausted after it, then feels ok until the next round of chemo.

feelings
Treat her normally, and try to act normal around her. I felt like I had to hold it together as some family members became distressed when they visited me in hospital. If you and your family need support speak to your GP, or try and get some counselling.

She also may become depressed and anxious. This is normal. Make sure she mentions it to her specialist nurse/oncologist and ask for counselling. They'll probably monitor her mood throughout treatment.

Alternative therapy
When I was in hospital I could access treatments such as reflexology and reiki. Ask the specialist nurse what services are avialable.

benefits
Speak to the specialist nurse to see what benefits and grants are avilable.

Hope this helps, and she gets through it ok.

pimmsy Thu 25-Aug-16 18:23:33

I found that an essential oil ultrasonic diffuser was really calming in the evenings and mint oil in it helped a little bit with nausea. Also getting a stock of new fluffy flannels for fast washing and maybe a very confortable dressing gown?

Good luck, and don't forget to take care of yourself.

WantToBeHelpful Thu 25-Aug-16 20:10:31

Thanks, this is great. I'm going to pull all the advice together into a little list of things for us to read and understand as a family. She knits a lot so that's good smile.

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

SandwichYum Thu 25-Aug-16 20:32:42

Hi OP, I think most is covered above to be honest (I've had chemo this year). Eating is hard - I didn't (and still don't to an extent) know what I wanted to eat and can't eat huge amounts so a good idea to have a selection of things to try (actually I probably wouldn't have eaten very !much at all without people doing this for me, couldn't stand the smell/texture/taste of various things, and I usually love food and cooking).

With regards to the knitting just be aware it may be difficult to do attached to a drip but is a great stress reliever when home after chemo .

Talk about anything other than the treatment and illness to help keep her sane!

EwanWhosearmy Thu 25-Aug-16 22:26:02

We discovered the chemo cookbook long after mine had finished.

My biggest issues were
1) mouth ulcers
2) constant nausea
3) being completely unable to concentrate on anything.

Usually I can read a paperback in a few hours. Once on chemo a trashy magazine was all I could manage. Same with films. Anything that needs concentration, forget it.

I got peripheral neuropathy and it lasted months. Cotton gloves or socks make that less painful.

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